Good Premise, Bad Film: In Time Movie Review

When I told a friend of mine I had watched the movie In Time, she burst out laughing in my face then, stifling her convulsive chuckling, asked “Why?” Looking back, that was the appropriate response. As a life-long sci-fi fan, one of my recurring questions is “Why did I watch that?” For instance, why did I watch Deep Impact, Event Horizon, and Surrogates? I had the foresight to know such films would be lousy, but placed them in the DVD tray anyways. In this case, I watched In Time for much the same reason I watched Limitless: the premise excited me, but the end product was irredeemably lame.

That In Time was so lousy is tragic. Its premise was unusually inspired for a film aimed at impressionable teenagers. In brief, In Time imagines a future where money is no longer the standard of currency: time is. This future scenario provides an interesting way to analyze our current situation in America. By taking money out of the equation, In Time allows the viewer to reframe the image we have of politics. What is money to the poor but time? With money, we can afford healthier foods, and more importantly afford health insurance, thus money can be considered a unit of how much time we may be on this earth.

It’s our misfortune that In Time doesn’t do much with its premise. If it had, it could have raised consciousness in popcorn addicts, and had people leaving the theater wondering why it is we’re essentially telling people to live shorter lives by denying them healthcare. Instead, the movie quickly devolves into a standard chase movie that you would probably forget most of during the drive home or while brushing your teeth.

In Time stars two actors who aren’t ready for leading roles: Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. While I’m not a huge fan of either, I can say that I at least like JT when he’s given supporting comic relief roles, such as when he frequently appears on SNL, more often than not parodying himself. Here, you can tell he’s going out of his way to look cool, and, as cinema history clearly shows, actors who try to look cool are never actually cool. Amanda Seyfried, as an actress, reminded me of Kaspar Hauser. I had to wonder, did she grow up around people? When she delivers her lines, it’s clear she doesn’t know what actual people talk like.

About half an hour into In Time, I realized this wasn’t going to be a smart film like I had hoped. That’s when I filed it under ‘So bad it’s good,’ but after the movie drags on, I considered moving it to simply ‘so bad it’s bad.’ The aspects of this movie that are good are more often than not lifted from other, better science fiction films. For example, many scenes are set in giant institutions lacking decor or architectural flair. The buildings are giant boxes, serving a completely utilitarian purpose. At first I thought this was a chilling vision of a future where form forever follows function, until I realized where I had seen this before: the Terry Gilliam film Brazil. That movie is not the only film In Time unapologetically steals from. Other obvious influences include Alphaville, The Matrix (Cillian Murphy’s performance greatly resembles that of Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith), and contemporary hits like The Adjustment Bureau and Inception.

In an attempt to find some sort of usefulness from this film, I had an idea to propose a drinking game: take a drink every time a bad time related pun is spoken. After watching only half of the film, I realized such a game would be a death sentence. There’s no end to time references in this movie. I can’t possibly count how frequently Justin Timberlake smugly said “we don’t have time,” “I hate to borrow your time like this,” “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands…” The only time reference I enjoyed was when it showed how in this vision of the future, instead of banks, people have timeshares.

I can imagine In Time garnering a cult following. People who find humor in cheesy dialogue, lousy special effects, and wooden acting will find a lot to like here. One scene features one of the crummiest special effects I’ve seen from a big budget movie. While driving a sports car in a high speed chase, Justin Timberlake veers uncontrollably down an incline and sends the car flying through the air. Instead of demolishing a perfectly good sports car, the movie uses a very cheap stand in. I was reminded of how in early short films by Charlie Chaplin he’d fake scenes featuring himself falling from high places by dropping what was very clearly a flimsy mannequin.

The worst dialogue involves the film’s villain, a rich executive who has all the time in the world. In a scene where he dines with the heroes, he specifically says “this is Darwinian capitalism,” thus spelling out what most of us had inferred much earlier. Later, when they have to crack into the villain’s safe, Amanda Seyfried suggests the code is “Darwin’s birthday,” and yes, off-hand she does know Darwin’s exact birthday.

Bottom line: if you’re like me and think maybe something interesting might happen in a film with such an insightful premise, don’t waste your time.

If you want to watch a better sci-fi film with a similar premise, watch Children of Men.

If you’re looking for good sci-fi films from recent years, check out my movie reviews of Hanna and Source Code.

If you want to read something with similar themes to In Time, check out Kurt Vonnegut’s 2 B R O 2 B.

If you simply want to read more by me, check out my books A Rapturous Occasion and The Madness of Art: Short Stories.

If you watched In Time, what was your opinion of it?

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